10 April 2009

Depression Talk: 30 Years Later

One week ago, Robert Reich blogged that we are in a Depression. He used a capital D, acknowledged that it's not a Great Depression, but moved away from the milder Mini Depression.

I am a boomer with a specific memory of not knowing what a Depression would mean in concrete terms. It was 1979 and Tom Bold and I were house-hunting. In one realtor's office, Tom and a middle-aged fellow exchanged these words.

Realtor: You want a mortgage that you can handle even in a depression.

Tom Bold: If we're in a depression, a mortgage is the least of my worries.

Realtor: Well, that's true.

And I just quietly filed that away. I was sure we'd never be in a depression because, after all, the Great Depression was something our grand-parents dealt with. It wasn't anything a modern society would allow to happen again. (You know, the same way we count on wars to never be repeated.)

But I still filed it away in memory. I was probably focused on the idea that Tom Bold had an opinion about priorities in a depression and I had no earthly idea what that might mean.

I mean I really filed it away. Tom was standing. The realtor was sitting. Tom had short hair (first year on the job). The realtor's was even shorter. They both wore white shirts and dark pants (1979, remember).

I am certain that in the next several years (early 1980s with their own impressive unemployment figures) I did not relate the conversation to personal finances. Other people might be unemployed but Tom was at the start of his career with options that included job choices and salary jumps.

Today? I am relating the conversation to personal finances. It's not the mortgage per se, as we've consistently lived beneath our means since 1979. Our housing is not a problem. But we certainly are touched by the current Depression, just as Reich describes his own and most Americans' situation. Retirement savings took a hit. Employment has been altered (Tom's lay-off). We're avoiding debt, just as Reich predicts. We see enough changes to make us cautious, expecting to hunker down for a couple of years.

With humility, we appreciate what we have and we sympathize with people who better fit what Tom described to that realtor. People for whom the mortgage is the least of their worries. In a Depression, the worst worries are much worse than making the mortgage.

© 2009 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

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